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The Magic of Writing Thought Leadership

Producing quality content can be fun


By serious, aspirational writing I mean writing that goes beyond purely utilitarian forms, such as emails, texts, announcements, proposals, and so on. I mean essays, op-ed pieces, articles, papers, and bulletins that aim to provoke thinking or inspire action—or both—in the reader.

Thought leadership pieces take all of those forms (as well as speeches, presentations, and videos—all of which require writing). Thought leadership inspires the writer-thinker as well as (one hopes) the reader. Indeed, that’s where the magic happens. By setting out to write thought leadership, you set a high bar.

Setting a high bar engenders a mindset of creativity, persistence, and excellence in content, and, perhaps, brings a sense of style to the task of content production. (I discuss the difference between content and thought leadership here.)

Here are five—to me—magical aspects of writing thought leadership, which I have experienced at some point on most projects:

  1. Writing launches a train of thought. As professional writers know, the most reliable cure for writer’s block is simply to write. Even if it’s rubbish, you will at least be writing. And the magic of writing is that it engages your mind in ways that talking, singing, driving, or watching TV can’t. As the saying among writers goes, “Writing begets writing.” That’s because writing begets thinking—and thinking, properly directed and pursued, leads to thought leadership. The reason most writers love writing is that it shifts your mind into creative mode, where the fun is.

  2. Writing organizes your thinking. Writing—getting it up on the screen and down on paper—tells you what you think. Thought leaders often don’t know what they know until I interview them, write it up, and show them the document. That typically leads to more thinking and writing and to better thinking and writing. Ever tell someone an idea, and in the telling learn that the idea was even better than you thought? This happens all the time when you write. Or you may find that the idea isn’t so great, and you can ditch it—a necessary part of the creative process.

  3. Writing engages the subconscious. Here’s the part I enjoy most. The act of writing taps parts of your brain that lay beyond your conscious mind. This is partly why writing launches a train of thought and why writing begets writing. Your conscious mind just cannot access as many experiences, synthesize as many ideas from them, and organize it all into a cogent argument with the facility, grace, and ease of your subconscious. On virtually every writing project, I am delighted to find on Day 3 that my subconscious has solved the writing problems of Day 1. This may be the most magical aspect of writing.

  4. Writing synthesizes a team’s thinking. Until I worked as a ghostwriter, I never thought of writing as a team sport. Yes, I appreciated editorial direction and guidance. But I liked the idea of working alone and took a craftsman’s approach to my work. But by collaborating on thought leadership, I’ve learned that, in a business setting, team writing often generates results superior to anything a single individual could produce. The team needs a scribe to synthesize and organize the ideas—and to deal with what to leave in and what to leave out. Also, I’ve seen many projects where a team has only vague notions of how to address an issue and, only in developing a document, creates a new and useful point of view or offering for their clients. In this way, a thought leadership program can serve as something of an R&D function for a consulting firm.

  5. Writing communicates thoughts, stirs emotion, and prompts action. This is the point of writing. Good writing gets you into the reader’s head. Just as you engaged your own thought process when you wrote, your words and ideas engage your reader. Done right, thought leadership fulfills its goal of leading the reader to think about something in a new way. Consider the ways in which good thought leadership has transformed executives’ thinking about risk management, talent management, corporate governance, cyber threats, compliance, corporate responsibility and sustainability, supply chain management, outsourcing, merger and acquisition integration, and finance, operations, internal audit, and other functions. Change like that happens when ideas find expression in new and compelling ways.

When you’re a writer, people often ask what you’re working on. When I tell them what I’m working on they often change the subject or say, with light sarcasm, “Sounds exciting.”

That’s okay. I get it. They were hoping I’m working on Fifty Shades of Purple. Meanwhile, I’m writing about process improvement or risk management.

But it is exciting and, in its way, magical. You learn that you know more than you thought you did. You see what you think. You synthesize expertise and experiences into something new. You feel the subconscious kicking in and helping out. You see the whole piece do its part to bring about change.

That’s the magic of writing thought leadership.

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